Monthly Archives: June 2009

Poetry Standing Firm in the Face of Fire

“But maybe stories and poetry can help open our minds to possibilities that are very real but extremely hard to see; and in that sense, they can be very practical.” – Rachel Kranz in a response to yesterday’s post I love the two responses to yesterday’s post (from the two major women in my life) […]

Posted in Behbahani (Simin), Stowe (Harriet Beecher), Tennyson (Alfred Lord) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Poetry on the Streets of Tehran

As protest roils Tehran’s streets, even in the face of a brutal crackdown, poetry is making itself heard. This past Saturday National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition interviewed poet Simin Behbahani, known as the “lioness of Iran,” who read a poem she had composed about the tyrannny of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The NPR website also […]

Posted in Behbahani (Simin), Lehrer (Tom) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Emily Dickinson’s Deathbed Fly

Okay, here is a second post on poems about small winged pests, written in honor of President Obama’s cool and cold-blooded killing of a fly. When I was a child, I used to enjoy the poem about “the funny old lady who swallowed a fly.” It is one of those repetition poems, with a new […]

Posted in Dickinson (Emily), Donne (John), Golding (William), Grimm Brothers, Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

John Donne’s Seductive Flea

Georges de La Tour, Woman Catching a Flea, c. 1638. Oil on canvas. In case you haven’t heard, the news media was buzzing last week over a CBS interview with President Obama where he nailed a fly that was bothering him. I thought I’d have fun in today’s entry and talk about the symbolic use […]

Posted in Donne (John) | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Striving to Emulate Little Lord Fauntleroy

Children, when they start developing a sense of self, discover that there is a preset gender program they are expected to conform to. For some this is not a problem, but others feel constrained by their assigned designation. It’s not always that girls want to be boys and boys girls. Sometimes they just want to […]

Posted in Burnett (Francis Hodgson) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Dreaming about Ozma of Oz

After reading my post on how we can examine our favorite children’s classics to gain self insight, my colleague Barbara Beliveau in the St. Mary’s economics department mentioned how much she enjoyed L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book, entitled The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), when she was growing up. This was always my favorite […]

Posted in Baum (L. Frank) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Biology and Poetry Love Gender Diversity

After a week of discussing how literature can help us handle anger and violence, I return to Twelfth Night and the slippery issue of gender identity. This too is grabbing national headlines these days (what a time we find ourselves in!) as Americans battle over same sex marriage, “don’t ask don’t tell,” and other concerns […]

Posted in Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalyptic Vision

When we say that our safety trumps all other considerations, we lose touch with something that is far more meaningful. Sometimes we need a novel as grim and stark as Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” to be clear what is at stake.

Posted in McCarthy (Cormac) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Poetry Battling Despair

Odin’s Valhalla, Dwelling Place of the Einherrar, artist unknown  While the major focus of this blog and website is looking to literature to see if it can provide solutions to life’s problems, at times I wonder if I am just engaging in wishful thinking. What if there are no solutions and literature is just whistling […]

Posted in Beowulf Poet | Tagged , , | Comments closed

A Queenly Response to Violence

My wife (who is currently out of town) has just responded to my last post with a story that expands my conversation about the Beowulf approach to societal rage. In the story related in Julia’s post, a woman takes a principled and courageous stand in an ugly situation and finds herself, against all expectation, making […]

Posted in Beowulf Poet | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Taking on Grendel Rage

If Grendel rage is on the rampage in America, do we have a Beowulf who can defeat it?  And what would defeating it look like? In a recent New York Times piece, liberal columnist Frank Rich talks about how irresponsible talk from political commentators and politicians essentially enable those committing hate crimes, even though these […]

Posted in Beowulf Poet | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

A Modern Grendel on the Rampage

We have a Grendel problem in today’s United States. The troll that invades our special halls has many different names—Scott Roeder, who killed Dr. George Tiller; James W. von Brunn, the Holocaust Museum attacker; Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, who killed an army recruitment officer; gun lover Richard Poplawski, who shot three Philadelphia police officers; Jim David Adkisson, […]

Posted in Beowulf Poet | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Roger Federer and the Cavalier Poets

I’m going to put off my follow-up post to Twelfth Night until Monday because I just came across an interesting article that invites a timely response. As a tennis player and fan of Roger Federer, I am still vibrating over his having won at the French Open this past Sunday. After his archrival Rafa Nadal […]

Posted in Lovelace (Richard), Suckling (Sir John) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Shakespeare’s Cross-Dressing Fantasies

When I was a child, I was fascinated by works containing characters of ambiguous gender. Specifically, I was drawn to images of boys who either looked like girls or who were, unbeknownst to them, actually girls. I was also drawn to images of girls (and women) who passed themselves off as guys. The prevailing culture […]

Posted in Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

The Favorite Books of American Presidents

I’ve had fun discussing the reading of Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas over the last couple of days, and while I’ve come up dry on further posts about the Supreme Court and literature, it has given me the idea of periodically dipping into reading stories of other political figures. I’ll start a list here, beginning […]

Posted in Alexander (Elizabeth), Angelou (Maya), Bible, Camus (Albert), Carle (Eric), Dickey (James), Fleming (Ian), Frost (Robert), Marquez (Gabriel Garcia), Morrison (Toni), O'Neill (Joseph), Robinson (Edward Arlington), Service (Robert), Sheridan (Richard), Stendahl, Tolstoy (Leo), Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Clarence Thomas and Native Son

The focus in this week’s posts is on Supreme Court justices and literature. I notice that, in his New York Times column today, moderate conservative David Brooks endorses Sonia Sotomayor for just that restrained balance that we discussed yesterday as we explored her early love for Nancy Drew novels. Today I’m going to talk about […]

Posted in Rand (Ayn), Wright (Richard) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Sonia Sotomayor and Nancy Drew

This week, with Sonia Sotomayor still in the news (although the firestorm that greeted her nomination has gone into temporary remission), I thought I’d devote my posts to supreme court justices and literature. This was inspired in part by an excellent New York Times article over the weekend on Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas (in which […]

Posted in Asimov (Isaac), Delaney (Samuel), Dixon (Franklin), Keene (Carolyn), Stratemeyer (Edward) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Sendak and Dr. Seuss to the Rescue

In my last entry I mentioned the key role that books can play in the lives of children. I’d like to follow that up here, officially adding the category of “children’s classics” to the “great literature” to which this website is devoted.There is artistry to many of the children’s stories that we remember fondly. When […]

Posted in Dr. Seuss, Sendak (Maurice) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

What Personal Reading Histories Tell Us

I can’t recommend enough the value of writing your reading history. It will reveal to you sides of yourself you didn’t know you had.

Posted in Angelou (Maya), Blume (Judy), Clifton (Lucille), Dr. Seuss, Morrison (Toni), Silverstein (Shel), Waber (Bernard), Walker (Alice) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Bush, Obama, and Gulliver’s Travels

I return for one last time to Swift, who provides invaluable perspectives for understanding contemporary politics. Swift was a shrewd student of political dynamics. His satire is often an allegorical depiction of real life people and incidents, and if one knows one’s history, one can read parts of Gulliver’s Travels as a roman à clé, […]

Posted in Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Can Satire Change Lives?

  For a website devoted to whether and how literature can change lives, satire presents a special case. That’s because satire seems to have changing lives as its goal. Because of this apparent agenda, it fell out of favor with the high culture crowd in the heyday of the New Criticism.  The New Critics, who […]

Posted in Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

The Symbolism of Cutting up Bodies

William Hogarth, The Fourth Stage of Cruelty  There are a number of images of cutting up human bodies in Swift’s satire. In this post I am going to explore why. In Book I of Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians, when they want to punish Gulliver for his “traitorous” decision not to obliterate Blefescu, consider starving him […]

Posted in Swift (Jonathan) | Tagged , | Comments closed


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete